Monday, December 11, 2017

$5 All Star Meal from Carl's Jr.

I have a thing for freebies.  Mostly, just a fun excuse to break far outside my norm, and experience something different.  Sometimes it leads me to gems like Rubio's (seriously, I love the place) or my beloved IHOP (which I review every year).

This visit was inspired by a free offer as part of T-Mobile Tuesdays, for a All Star Meal of my choosing at Carl's Jr or Hardees.

This was exciting to me on several levels, one being that I had never actually been to a Carl's Jr or Hardees before.  I enjoyed the experience.
Double Cheeseburger & Onion Rings All Star Meal.  $5.
"Get Unhungry for $5."

The $5 All Star Meals are a new-ish offering from Carl's Jr, and were fascinating to me in their own right.  There were 4 options, all of which included fries, a drink, and a cookie.  3 of the four included a double cheeseburger, in addition to a second entree.

The meal choices were interesting.  No choice on sides (fries, cookie, soft drink) are always included, and no choice on burger (double cheeseburger), but you could opt for a spicy chicken sandwich or jumbo hot dog alongside (seriously, a DOUBLE burger AND a full chicken sandwich or hot dog??) or, uh, 4 onion rings (what I went for).  The final meal doesn't include a burger at all, and only one other item: "hand breaded chicken tenders", only 3 of them.

This fascinated me at the cost level.  The cost of a full chicken sandwich, a hot dog, and only 4 onion rings is equivalent?  That is terrifying, when it comes to the quality of the hot dog and chicken sandwich.  But how about only 3 chicken tenders, equivalent to a double burger AND chicken sandwich?  Beware?

It also fascinated me at a meal size level.  3 chicken fingers, a small fry, drink, and cookie seems like a reasonable size meal.  A double burger, fries, 4 onion rings, drink, and cookie is a bit big, but please, only 4 onion rings in addition to the burger and fries isn't too crazy.  But throwing in a second sandwich or hot dog seems ... well, a bit on the large side.

Welcome to America?    The tag line of "get unhungry" indeed applies.

Setting

I visited the Hallide Plaza location in San Francisco.
Curb Appeal?
The location I visited was ... interesting.  Right at 5th & Market, right near the Powell St. Muni/Bart station, right near the mall but ... in a world of its own.

Both inside and outside were inhabited by some folks who sorta seemed like they were living there.  It somehow didn't feel too dirty, and there was a security guard walking around inside the entire time, and the staff were decently friendly, but wow, what a different sort of setting.
Seating.
This particular location had regular tables for 4, high tables for 2, and a little counter.  All the tables were actually decently cleaned, which was impressive, given the area.

I was given a number to wait for my order, but the number was never called out.  Instead, the contents of my meal were called out, which confused me further as it was packaged on a tray for dine-in, and I had ordered takeout, which my number clearly said on it.  No one seemed interested in taking my laminated number back either.

Why did they bother with the numbers?
"Bakery Goodies."
Carl's Jr. has a pretty sad dessert line up compared to most fast food chains.  Notably, no ice cream or frozen desserts (unless you count the milkshakes).  Just one type of cookie (chocolate chip), and incredibly sad looking slices of "cheesecake".

These were all on display in the "Bakery Goodies" window, along with basic salads that pretty clearly screamed out "don't bother order me".
Self-Serve Soda.
The soda fountains are self-serve, Coca-Cola options (including Cherry Coke and Dr. Pepper), pus some other choices like raspberry ice tea, lemonade, and something fruity, all of which had their labels rubbed off, and were a bit difficult to figure out.

I had the lemonade, and it was not very good, watered down and too sweet somehow at the same time.

The Food

I haven't sampled most of Carl's Jr's Menu.  The menu is basic burger joint, with a few chicken options and a token salad, plus, uh, burritos, tacos, and taquitos.  No seafood, no real healthy options, although they offer lettuce wrap rather than bun.  The veggie option is kinda funny, no veggie burger patty, instead, just a bun with regular fixings, cheese, and guac.  They are aiming for a different demographic, clearly.
Boxed Up!
All Star Meals come in special boxes.

I'm not going to lie, I felt a bit proud walking out with my box.
$5 Double Cheeseburger + Onion Rings All Star Meal: Box Contents.
"Charbroiled double cheeseburger on a plain bun, 4 onion rings, small fries, small drink and fresh-baked chocolate chip cookie."

I opened my box to find my bounty.  The burger was wrapped up in its own wrapper, standard fast food burger style.  The cookie was in its own sleeve.  The onion rings and fries though were just jumbled together on the side.  Three ketchup packets were thrown on top.

Presentation? A bit lacking.
Double Cheeseburger.
"Two charbroiled all-beef patties topped with American cheese, onions, ketchup, mustard, dill pickles on a plain bun."

I didn't actually really want a burger, much less a double burger, but, well, that is what the All Star Meals come with.  Carl's Jr also makes a slew of other burgers, including fancier ones with sesame seed or "premium" buns rather than plain, additional sauces (special sauce, teriyaki glaze, bbq, santa fe), more veggies (lettuce, tomato, red onion, pineapple), premium toppings (bacon, onion rings, guac), and other cheeses (swiss, pepperjack).  They also have much thicker patties, the 1/3 pound "Thickburger", which alone is $6.

But my meal had the standard, but, uh, double, cheese burger

It looked like any other basic fast food burger out there and was decently assembled, not too sloppy, not mushed.

The bun was soft and plain (no sesame seeds, etc), but actually toasted lightly on the inside.  The top layer above the patties and cheese adjacent to the top bun had ketchup and mustard, that soaked into the bun a bit.

The burger patties were thin and cooked well done, as expected.  Not juicy, not moist, but I guess they did taste charbroiled ... although I took it as slightly burnt.  They tasted very beefy, but not in a good way.  I didn't care for the burger patties.

The cheese, standard American cheese, was also double layered, one for each patty.  It was fast food science perfection, expertly melty.
Under the Patties.
Under the patties was the remainder of the fillings, another layer of ketchup and mustard, two slices of pickle, a few rings of white onion.

I loved the pickles.  I really, really love fast food pickles in general, which is a bit hilarious as I grew up in a pickle making family.  I basically like two kinds of pickles: home made, or fast food.  There is no in-between.  I hate pretty much all grocery store pickles, no matter if they are cheap Vlasic ones, or ones attempting to be artisinal.  These were classic fastfood style, and, I plucked them out happily.  Only two though.  (Note to self: extra pickles).

The onion was fresh enough tasting, crispy, white onion.

Overall, the burger wasn't for me, but I didn't expect it to be.  Credit for the soft toasted bun, the nicely melted cheese, and decent toppings.
Small Natural-Cut Fries & Onion Rings.
"Premium-quality, Skin-on, Natural Cut French Fries."

Every All Star Meal comes with a small fries.  Their fries are listed as "natural cut", and, actually do seem so.  My fries did have skin remaining on most tips, and some edges.

The fries were ... decent.  Standard thinner fast food style fries.  They weren't particularly hot and fresh, but weren't too soggy.  The color was pale, but I think that is due to the more baked style?  They were really not greasy at all.  Like, shockingly not greasy.

Overall, fine, a very different style from McDonald's.  I'd prefer thicker fries, crispier fries, more seasoning, etc, but, again, they were absolutely fine for what they were.

Carl's Jr gets some points for offering more exciting side options than most.  Not as part of the $5 All Star Meal, but they also have jalapeno poppers, crisscut fries, and fried zucchini bits, in addition to the regular fries and onion rings.
Onion Ring.
"Onion rings cooked up crispy and golden brown." 

Now we were getting to the good stuff, what I really went for.  Onion rings.  I adore onion rings.

The All Star Meal says it comes with 4 onion rings, but mine came with 4.5.  Bonus!  I'm not sure what a regular side order comes with.

I liked the onion rings.

They were crazy crispy, in a cooked-too-long kind of way, but, I liked that.  They did have real full rings of onion inside.  The onion inside wasn't slimy.  The coating was not oily.  It didn't slide off easily.  Just, decent onion rings.

The rings were assorted shapes and sizes, but mine were all mostly quite large.

They don't come with any kind of dipping sauce, but I brought my own BBQ, since I thought the ketchup would be a bit boring.

I'd gladly get onion rings again.
Chocolate Chip Cookie.
You know I'm a dessert girl, but, cookies are always at the bottom of the list for me.  

My meal included a chocolate chip cookie, so, I tried it, but, it was as expected.  Just a generic cookie, little chocolate chips, not buttery, no depth of flavor.  Not too crispy, but not the soft style I like. 

Very meh.
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Friday, December 08, 2017

Dean & DeLuca Ice Cream, Japan

Dean & DeLuca is relatively well known in major cities for their gourmet, curated, line of markets and cafes, plus mail-order business.  During my 2017 visit to Tokyo, my hotel had a Dean & DeLuca downstairs, but I never visited it.

Tokyo was Dean & DeLuca's first international location.  And in Japan, they carry a house brand of incredible Super Premium Ice Cream.

It wasn't there that I tried their ice cream though (although now I wish I had discovered it sooner, as they did serve it at that cafe/market, and I certainly would have returned for it!).  Instead, I had it on my return flight, on Japan Airlines, where they offer Dean & DeLuca ice cream on the "Anytime You Wish" menu (for flights out of Japan only, it was Häagen-Dazs on my flight from the US).

Um, it was delicious.  Really, really good ice cream, and I promise it is not just because I was a captive audience!  Available in chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, and pistachio.
Madagascar Vanilla.
Our flight had only one option: Madagascar Vanilla.  Vanilla is generally a flavor I reserve only for pairing with a fruit crisp/crumble/pie, a base for a sundae or shake, or perhaps an affogato.  It is not a flavor I generally will eat on its own, and in most cases, a flavor I just don't really like (an exception is Three Twins), which, until I tried this, I believed was the best vanilla out there.

It was creamy.  It was luxurious.  When they talk about a smooth mouthfeel, this is what they mean.  It was so rich, it almost tasted like it was laced with mascarpone, or something more than just cream.  (I wonder if, like the soft serve in Japan, they use higher milk fat percentage?).

The vanilla flavor was also very pronounced, with flecks of real vanilla bean in the ice cream.

Amazingly, I enjoyed it just plain, I didn't bother make an affogato, add anything else I had with me as toppings, or do anything to it.  It was perfect as it was.

I immediately ordered a second one.  Seriously, the best vanilla ice cream I've ever had.
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Thursday, December 07, 2017

Saryo Itoen, Haneda Airport, Tokyo

My last stop on my way out of Tokyo was Haneda airport.  Literally, the last stop.

Still not entirely satisfied, and wanting "just one more sweet treat", I was drawn in by a soft serve shop, Saryo Itoen, in the airport.

My order was not a success, and I left more sad than I started.  That said, I think I ordered poorly, and should have gone elsewhere, as there were many other shops (I counted at least 5) that sold soft serve (soft cream), which is really what I wanted.

Uh, next time?

Setting

The shop is located in the edo market area inside Haneda, outside security, upstairs from the departures level.  This area is all different shops, mostly restaurants, all which have distinct look and feel, and are certainly not a standard food court.

There are tempura shops, sushi bars, and more, but I zeroed in on the sweets (of which I had many choices).
Interior-Exterior.
  Saryo Itoen really did look like a standalone building ... inside.
"Patio" Seating.
The seating area was designed to look like patio seating, on low benches, under red umbrellas.  It really did not feel like an airport.
Ordering Window.
The ordering window did actually look like a food court though, just a window with light up menu and register.

Menu

Fake Food "Menu".
Near the entrance was a display, per Japanese style. with fake plastic displays of the standard items, plus signs with all the seasonal items.

There were many tempting parfaits, with red bean and mochi as common toppings, with or without soft serve.
Full Menu.
My original intention was to get soft serve, likely as a parfait, but ...  soft serve was only available in green tea or roasted brown tea, both caffeinated (as it is a tea shop, after all).

I saw that they also offered the famous Cremia soft serve, but only the plain flavor I had at Silkream already (which I did enjoy), which was great, except, it was available in a cone only, no toppings.
Seasonal Fall Special.
So I moved on to the seasonal special, featuring chestnuts, as was very common throughout Tokyo in the fall.  I loved some of my previous chestnut desserts (like the Mont Blanc soft serve parfait from Mother Farm Milk Bar) and hated others (like the Mont Blanc soft serve from Ministop), so I knew this was a gamble, but, I still took it (after confirming with the server that it did indeed include ice cream, as it was a bit hard to tell from the picture).

Food

My order was prepared quickly.
Plated up.
It was handed over on a tray, with spoon and wet cloth for each of us (as there was someone else with me, and it was clear we were sharing).  The dessert bowl and spoons were disposable, the tray was not.
Jelly Dessert w/ Chestnut. ¥870.
Well, this certainly wasn't what I wanted it to be, although, it looked decent enough.

For starters, uh, no soft serve ice cream.  At first, I wasn't even sure there *was* ice cream.  But there was, a scoop of hard serve, very hard serve (top right).

But stepping back first.

The base was clear jellies, plain, boring, flavorless besides sweet.  With the jellies was red beans, full little beans, but they didn't taste ... "fresh" if that makes any sense.  They seemed old, and clearly from a can (which I'm sure all red bean is, but still, there was something just very low quality about these).  I did not like the base.

On top of the jellies and beans was a scoop of sweetened red bean paste (better than the beans, sweetened, little bits of texture in it, but uninteresting), 3 dango balls (again, these just didn't taste like a quality item, very boring), 2 small soft mochi (one pink, one green, neither had flavor, but were soft enough), and 2 chunks of chestnut (and somehow, I didn't care for these either).  These items were all better than the base, but, none particularly good, and I didn't care for them either.

But the real problem was the sauce drizzled all over it, that was also down in the jelly / red bean mix.  It was very sweet, and there was too much of it.  It had a flavor that just tasted ... off.  I'm sure it was "chestnut", but I hated it.

The only component of this that I liked was the scoop of ice cream.  It was hard as a rock when served though, it took forever to soften enough to get a plastic spoon into it to taste it.  As it softened, it actually was quite good, nice flavor, actual bits of chestnut in it.  Good ice cream, but, alas, hard serve, and not what I wanted, and certainly not with all the other bits I didn't like.

This was really a complete ordering fail on my part.
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Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Longrain, Tokyo

What do you do, when you are in Tokyo, have eaten exclusively Japanese food for a week and a half (generally from convenience stores, street food stalls, or very authentic holes-in-the-wall), and you find out* that one of your favorite Thai restaurants from Sydney, Longrain (which I've reviewed before), has just opened a restaurant in Tokyo, literally only, three weeks prior, directly across the street from your hotel?

Yeah, you get a few friends, and you hightail it there.

*Ok, like I didn't know this was happening and it was a surprise.  I had been tracking the opening for months, and was delighted that it did happen before my arrival.
Thai Feast.
Three of us visited at about 6pm on a Sunday night, without reservations.  We were able to get a table, but the place filled up quickly, and we certainly did not have prime seating.  I do recommend making a booking, particularly if you want a view (more on that soon).

But the short version?  It was good.  A very different experience than the rest of my time in Tokyo, certainly not a local Tokyo thing, but, for me, who complains constantly about the lack of good thai cuisine in San Francisco, I was thrilled to get a chance to have one of my Sydney favorites, even if not in Sydney.  I'd return.

Setting

Longrain is located up on the 39th floor of the Yebisu Garden Place Tower.  There isn't much signage in the lobby, and the mixed use building didn't make it easy to find.  We finally just got in an elevator, unsure if we were going to wind up in an office.
Signage.
But as soon as we got out of the elevator, I recognized the signature green glow of the Longrain sign.  There were several other restaurants on this floor as well.
Stunning Bar.
The centerpiece of the restaurant was the bar.  It was, simply put, gorgeous.

It was huge, the lighting above it reminded me of the view of a city from afar, and it had ample seating.  Just like in Sydney, the cocktail program has as much attention as the food, and the assortment of liquor and mixers was large.

The bar was a constant source of action.
Tables.
Most people sat at tables however, as the cuisine is all designed for sharing.  Wooden tables, concrete walls, very modern, very swanky, very designed space.

Those with bookings had the seats along the windows, with absolutely incredible views out over Tokyo.

It felt somewhat like it was trying a bit hard, with loud music and a certain vibe going on, but, it worked.
Place Setting.
Tables were set with plates that had slightly sloped edges, that looked nice, but, were form over function.  They caused my different dishes to all slide into each other and mix together, which I do not think was by design.

Fork and spoon, no knives, no chopsticks.

Since everything is designed to share, serving utensils were brought with every dish, and our individual plates and utensils were changed out between courses.

Each diner also had a Longrain branded wet wipe waiting for them, embracing the local culture.

Service

The service started out great.  English speaking, english menus, very attentive.  One of my dining companions was struggling to cut something at one point, and a server swooped in with a knife out of no where.

But ... about halfway through our meal, that all changed.  Our server went MIA.  

It started out fairly innocent.  Our cocktails ran out, and we weren't offered a chance to order others.  Then our water ran out, and no refills were provided.  It got worse, as we finished our meal.

We sat with empty dishes, and dirty plates, in front of us for a very, very long time.  I couldn't find our server to flag him over.  Finally, I gestured at someone else, who brought us the bill.  I explained that we didn't want the bill, we wanted to order dessert.  

Once we did successfully order dessert, things picked up for a moment, our table was cleared, new dishes brought out, but then, it happened again.  Getting the bill, and then getting it settled, was more drama.

I think what happened is that we had the only English speaking server, and he had a normal section to cover of folks who made reservations, and they were all on the other side of the restaurant?  I'm not sure.  And they have only been open 3 weeks.  But, it was a very complete breakdown, quite disappointing.

Drinks

As I mentioned, the cocktail program was as exciting in Tokyo as in Sydney.
Drink Menu.
The drink menu had a large selection of beer, wine, classic cocktails, soft drinks (including house made lychee, passionfruit, elderflower, etc drinks), mocktails, and, fun cocktails.

My dining companion who does not drink alcohol was excited enough by the house made interesting soft drinks, but then amazed that he had so many non-alcoholic cocktails to pick from that sounded interesting, and not just sweet.

I too was overwhelmed, and would have gladly picked many of them.  I planned to order a second drink, but alas, we were never given that opportunity, so I only got a chance to try mine (and one other).
Gin Sin. ¥1100.
"Gin, lychee, ginger, kafr lime leaf, lemon."

I settled on the gin sin.

It was great, a nicely balanced drink.

The lychee was sweet, but the ginger and citrus balanced it out, and it was fairly heavy on the gin (in a good way), so it stayed refreshing, and not too sweet.

My drink came with a full lychee in it, slices of fresh ginger, a kafir lime leaf, and, uh, a clothespin on the side.

I really enjoyed the drink, appreciated how well designed it was, and it matched my mood perfectly.  Refreshing, interesting, and a nice compliment to the food.
Red Dragon. ¥1300.
"Chilli vodka, raspberries, peach cranberry."

One dining companion went for the Red Dragon, another drink I almost ordered, so I was thrilled when he offered me a sip.

This was very interesting.  The chili vodka was indeed spicy.  It had kick.  Serious kick.  But it also had plenty of muddled raspberries, and they were sweet.  It was a crazy combination, and it worked somehow.

I'm not sure I would have wanted to sip on this all night, but, for a few sips at the start of the meal, it certainly woke up the palette.

Dinner

And finally, the food.  The menu had many of the same items as Sydney, plus a few things I hadn't seen before.

Our food was all well prepared, flavorful, nicely presented.  Not as spicy as Sydney, but overall, very solid, and better than Thai cuisine in San Francisco.  I hope it does well in Tokyo.

Menus

Set Dinner. ¥5500.
The first page of the menu is a set menu, featuring all of Longrain's greatest hits, mostly the same as the menus I had in Sydney for large group dinners.

The signature betel leaf starter, a choice of two salads, choice of two meat mains, choice of three curries, stir fried greens, rice, choice of three desserts, and coffee/tea.

Everything I wanted was on that menu, but, we weren't that hungry, and I knew this would be a feast.  Still, if you want a thai banquet, this sounded great, and is a great value.
A La Carte.
We went a la carte, sharing all dishes (as recommended by the restaurant).  The menu was large and overwhelming, and we wanted it all.  Our decisions were made easier by the fact that many dishes are available in half-size, so we could order more things.

Starters / Salads

We skipped the appetizers, although I wanted to try the crispy tiger prawn with sweet chili, and the seafood spring rolls with corn, and I wanted my companions to try the signature miang kham, but as only 3 diners, we had to make hard choices, so we ruled out the starters.

Unless you consider a salad-like dish a starter?  Here again, I would have gladly ordered the jicama salad with chili coconut dressing, or even the papaya salad (it had been so long since I had a good one!), but I really wanted them to experience the eggnet, the other Longrain signature dish (and one I've really enjoyed before). {LINK}
Filled Eggnet, pork, prawns, peanuts, cucumber relish (half).  ¥1380.
When the dish hit the table, I was struck instantly by one thing.  The color.  It was much more brilliant orange than in Sydney.  Which makes sense, as I had been remarking on the color of the egg yolks at breakfast every single morning.  This was the first of the differences.

But it wasn't just the color that was different from the eggnet I enjoyed in Sydney so many times.  What was under it was quite different too.  Same ingredients, but, entirely different proportions.

It was mostly bean sprouts.  Very crisp, fresh bean sprouts, but, lots of sprouts.  There was barely any ground pork, and only two tiny prawns in our order.  A little bit of chopped peanut.  It didn't have nearly as much of the dressing, and didn't seem to have really soaked up any of the flavorful marinade I so loved.

The flavors were still good, and the cucumber relish on the side had a great level of acidity and spice to add in, but, this was very different from what I knew, and I was a bit worried about what this would mean for the rest of our meal.

It also had very large chunks of coriander, a theme that would continue throughout the meal, and was quite distracting.

The others, who didn't have strong expectations for the dish, thought it was fine, and "refreshing".  I was not thrilled though, and wouldn't order again.

We opted for the half size, which was perfect for 3 people, we all got enough, but weren't left with leftovers.

Mains

Picking the mains was very hard.  I had some classics from Sydney I wanted to try again.  My companions wanted some curries.  And then there were tons of seafood dishes that called out to me.  In the end, we picked 4 mains, 2 of which we could order half size.

The rest of our dishes were served all at once, with new plates.  
Caramelised pork hock, five spice, chilli vinegar (half). ¥1680.
The caramelised pork hock is another dish I knew from Sydney, and absolutely adored in the past.  It was my one pick for main that I wasn't willing to pass up.  Unlike the egg net however, this one lived up to my Sydney memories..


The chunks of pork hock were perfectly caramelized.  The edges so crispy, the fat perfectly melty.  Seriously, so good.  The sauce, a sweet caramel sauce, was crazy delicious.  Oooh, and the crispy shallot slices on top too?  Sooo good.

Minus a fraction of a point for tons of cilantro garnish, but, overall, this was fantastic, sweet, a bit spicy, great textures, and just oh so good.  My favorite dish.
Peanut curry beef shin, long red peppers and Thai basil (half). ¥1800.
The others really wanted a curry, and selected the peanut curry beef shin.  It was fine, but I'm not really one for curries, so I only had a few bites.
Whole crispy fried snapper, tamarind, chilli, lime. ¥4800.
One diner really wanted the crispy fried snapper.  Not my top choice of seafood, but still more interesting than most, so, I was happy to go along with this one.

It was a fairly standard preparation, pieces of the snapper, battered, fried, and then stuffed back into the body.  Garnished with (guess what?) cilantro, and thin shreds of some kind of chili.

It wasn't crispy exactly, but the batter was light, the fish mild and moist.  I liked the flavors in the sauce, a mix of tamarind, spicy chilies, lime, and more.

The face did have a fair amount of meat left in it, and I had a fun time digging out the even more flavorful and moist bits from the cheek.  It did make me laugh though ... it wasn't that many years ago that I was entirely unfamiliar with eating fish cheeks, much less digging them out of a carcass myself.

Overall, well executed, fine, but not much different from a crispy fried fish anywhere.
Stir fried Asian greens, garlic, oyster sauce.  ¥1800. 
I wanted to have some vegetables (2 weeks straights of crazy epic breakfast buffets and constant dining out was catching up with me), so I ordered the kinda boring sounding stir fried asian greens, although I could tell my dining companions kinda questioned this.

I knew something they didn't though.  I knew that I had really liked this dish in Sydney.

The greens were a mix of some leafy bitter green and pea pods.  All were cooked perfectly, not mushy, but I adored the pea pods.  Really crisp, really fresh.  Yes, I'm raving about pea pods.

The light oyster (and soy?) sauce made the dish a bit more interesting.

Overall very good, although obviously very simple.  This one wasn't available in half size, so we got the full portion.
Thai jasmine rice. ¥500.
I didn't try the rice, which we added on to go along with the curry.


Dessert

And then ... dessert.  My favorite part of a meal.  We worked hard to get dessert, given how long it took, and how many tries, to get a server to bring us a dessert menu.
Dessert Menu.
The dessert menu had so many great choices.  The "Layered Longrain special" sounded a lot like the dessert always included in the group menu in Sydney, the one I always rave about.  But then there was a taro pudding based dessert (I love pudding! I love taro!), a sampler platter with pandan cream puffs (pandan!), and another with fresh figs (figs!)

I was glad to be there with two others, thinking we'd share a bunch of desserts, except they both broke the news that they weren't really hungry and didn't want much, if anything.  Still, we got two.
Taro pudding, sweet coconut cream, praline cashew nut ice cream. ¥1600.
Taro.  Pudding.  Cream.  Praline.  Ice Cream.  So many things I love.  I had to get this.

It wasn't ... quite what I was expecting.  First, the pudding.  Not a custard style pudding, rather more like the British meaning of pudding.  A ... cake?  A thick cake, decent taro flavor, but still, cake.

I liked the coconut cream drizzled over it, since I like coconut cream, but that still didn't change the fact that it was cake, not pudding.

I did really like the praline cashew nut ice cream.  It was creamy, loaded with bits of sweet caramelized praline.  Creamy, sweet, crunchy.  Hard to go wrong.

On top, taro chips.

I was let down by this dessert, since it wasn't what I had in mind, and I don't like cakes, but the ice cream was nice at least.
Layered Longrain special Black sticky rice, coconut jelly, vanilla tapioca, seasonal fruit. ¥1000.
The second dessert was the signature special dessert, one that always changes slightly, but has black sticky rice at the base, vanilla tapioca, coconut jelly, whipped cream, and coconut shreds.

This was just as good as Sydney versions, although, we didn't really find any fruit.  I think it may have been melon, and they left it out due to my allergy? Melon was all over the dinner and bar menu.

The vanilla tapioca was creamy, there was tons of great coconut flavors in the jelly and cream, the coconut shreds provided a nice crunch.  Good flavors, good textures.  I didn't care for the black sticky rice, but I think I just wasn't in the mood.

Overall, good, and I was glad to polish this, and the ice cream from the taro dish, off once my companions had their 2-3 bites.
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Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Breakfast @ Victor's, Westin Tokyo

During my stay at the Westin in Tokyo, I was able to indulge in many epic breakfasts.  The options were fairly generous.  I could opt for the easiest option, an expanded continental buffet in the Executive Lounge (quick, calm, more than extensive enough, and perfect if you have massive buffet fatigue).  Or, go all in, for the HUGE multi-national buffet at the Terrace restaurant (the complete opposite of the lounge, extremely noisy, frantic, and way too many options).  Or, at the other end of the spectrum, I could dine at Victor's, the fancy french restaurant on the top floor.

My final morning, I decided to check it out, even though I knew it would not be a fast option, and, I certainly could go straight from a morning workout in my gym clothes.  I skipped my morning workout, put on adult clothing, and headed up to breakfast.
Breakfast @ Victor's.
It really was completely different from the buffet choices.

A real restaurant, and quite a fancy one at that.  There were only a couple other tables with diners at them.  Service was fantastic.  It was very quiet and calm.

If you want a longer, formal meal, this is certainly a good option.

Setting

Victor's is located on the top floor, adjacent to the Compass Rose (a bar that I enjoyed a few drinks at previous nights, also recommended).
Interior.
The decor was formal elegant, with columns and large paintings on the walls, white table cloths, padded chairs.

Soft music played in the background.
Place Setting.
Tables were set with napkins in napkin rings, water goblets, and multiple sets of utensils.

Like I said, not exactly a casual breakfast offering.

Menu

Even at breakfast, a set menu is prominent, but there are some limited a la carte items are available.  The menu certainly didn't lead you to them though.
Exclusive Breakfast. Y4,630.
The main menu at Victor's is the "Exclusive Breakfast", normally a lofty Y4,630.  It is an odd three course menu, and not one I was particularly pleased with:

Morning starter’s
Selection of morning starters: Please choose from below…..
  • Juice : Orange , Grapefruit , Tomato , Cranberry , Pineapple
  • Milk : Milk , Low fat milk , Soy milk , Non fat milk
  • Yogurt : Plain or Low fat served with Berry or Banana
  • Smoothie : Superfoods Blueberry
Energizers 
Selection of Energizers ; Please choose from below…..
  • Bread basket : From our bakery kitchen including White bread , Whole wheat, Rye bread , Croissant , Danish , Scone
  • Cereals : Corn flakes , All bran , Rice crispies , Muesli , Oatmeal served hot
  • Victorʼs energizer : French toast Orange Flavor , Pancakes Lemon Flavor
Nutritious plate
Selection of Nutritious plates ; Please choose which elevates your senses today…
  • Victor's: Egg cooked any style your with choice of extras : Sausage , Bacon , Ham , Chicken breast Sautéed vegetables , mashed potato
  • Power up: Minute steak with fried egg , Balsamic sauce, Sautéed vegetables , mashed potato
  • High Protein: Egg white omelet , pan fried bean curd , seasonal vegetables
  • Refreshing Morning Salad: Chilled spa egg , mixed green salad and avocado , tomato dressing
So, looking at the menu.  I needed to select a juice / smoothie / yogurt / milk as a starter.  I wanted none of those things.

Then one "Energizer".  I thought that the "Victor's Energizer" would be a piece of french toast and a pancake, since it was listed as "Victor's Energizer", and had no "or's" in it, but alas, if you went for that, you needed to pick just one or the other.  I wanted to try both of these!

I also was interested in the bread basket, but that *did* include everything listed, and I certainly didn't want three slices of toast, a danish, a croissant, and scones.  I just wanted the scones, as I saw someone else with the bread basket, and the scones looked good (and were served with clotted cream!).  But alas, I could go for the entire bread basket OR french toast OR pancakes. None of these were available from the a la carte menu.

Finally, I was supposed to pick a "Nutritious plate", all egg based dishes served with tons of sides.  I don't really like eggs.  I didn't want steak, mashed potatoes, tofu, and cooked veggies for breakfast.

Really, not the menu for me.
A la carte, Page 1.
So I moved on to the a la carte menu, but it was not what I was looking for either.

"Superfoods" (e.g. smoothies, oatmeal, egg whites), "Egg dishes" (omelets), "Main Dish" (just the steak), and Salads were all that the first page offered. No breakfast carbs, nothing I wanted.
A la carte: Page 2.
Next, "Vegetable dish" (mashed potatoes, veggies, hash browns), fruits, yogurt, cereal, and toast.

Still, no french toast, pancakes, or breakfast pastries.
A la carte: Beverages.
And lastly, beverages. Just juices, coffee, tea.

Food & Drink

In the end, I basically got what I wanted: french toast and pancakes, although it took several back and forths, and repeated explanations that I didn't want a starter or an egg dish, and I didn't want to pick one or the other.  I'm glad they let me do this, but clearly, Victor's wasn't the right venue for me.

I also wanted sparkling water, but, just like in the restaurant downstairs, that would incur an extra fee, no eligible for SPG amenity inclusion.
Coffee.
As I sat, I was asked if I'd like coffee or tea.  I went for coffee.  It was brought promptly, with the menu.

It was a very strong coffee, and not particularly good.  I noted later that the a la carte menu had both"coffee" and "American coffee" listed, and I'm sure this was the former (note the small size), but, it also was just too acidic and harsh for me.
Decaf Coffee. 
Since I needed a second cup to pair with my food, as that tiny cup was gone far too fast, I moved on to decaf.  I actually liked it much more.  Less harsh, and it didn't taste instant.
Toppings: Butter, Syrup, Whipped Cream.
Alongside my "energizers", I was provided two packaged butters, a small pitcher of syrup, and a bowl of whipped cream.

I'm not sure if all of this normally comes with each of the dishes, or if just syrup and butter goes with the pancake, whipped cream with the french toast, etc, but I was glad to see these.  I wanted to ask for them (especially whipped cream), but I already felt like such a difficult case I didn't want to press my luck.
Pancake, Lemon Flavor.
First up, the pancake.

A large, fluffy, good looking pancake.  Nice presentation with the lemon garnish and little herb.

But it was the least remarkable pancake I've probably ever had.  It had a slight lemon flavor to it, but mostly, it just tasted like dry cake.  It wasn't burnt, it wasn't thin, it wasn't flabby, but wow, it was just highly uninteresting.

I slathered on butter and syrup, but nothing made this taste like anything.  I was very glad I had opted for two dishes!
French Toast, Orange Flavor.
The french toast was better.

A large thick slice, clearly coated in eggy batter, topped with mandarin oranges and some little herb.  They clearly do a nice job with presentation.

As an aside, I need to discuss french toast in general.

French toast, like bread pudding, comes in many styles.  Sometimes it is just a thin slice of regular bread in a slightly cinnamon-y batter (boo). Sometimes it is super eggy, with scrambled eggs almost poking out the sides (double boo).  Sometimes it is soggy.  Sometimes it is dry, and relies on you to add lots of butter and syrup.  Other times it is rich bread, crispy on top, moist inside, like bread pudding.  Huge variety, but in general, I'm not a huge fan of french toast, as it just often isn't the specific style I like.

That said, I had fantastic french toast at The Prince Gallery Oasis restaurant just days before, so I hoped to relive that, thinking perhaps Tokyo style french toast was the kind I liked.

This was somewhere in the middle.  No where near as good as the one at Oasis, but certainly not simple boring flabby french toast.

The bread was a large chunk of standard french loaf, lots of crust.  I didn't care for all the crust, it was chewy yet soggy.  Because, this was very, very, moist french toast.  Honestly, I'm not sure I've had french toast this moist before.  I am not sure that was by design, as it almost seemed like they just failed to cook it long enough? Or soaked it too long?  I couldn't even tell if it had been cooked on a cooktop.

Once I got over the surprise of this being a soggy/moist pile of custardy bread, I was more ok with it.  I tried to think of it as very custardy bread pudding, without a crispy top.  I mostly scooped out the near liquid interior, and left behind the chewy soggy crust.

It was very orange flavored though, clearly soaked in lots of orange juice perhaps.  I didn't actually want orange flavored french toast, so I wished it wasn't so orange-y, but, since it was advertised as an orange item, they did do well there.

I added all the whipped cream, and all the syrup, to this, and found it decently enjoyable, although certainly not something I'd get again.
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